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    Sequester Mitigation

    by Former Senator Mark Udall

    Posted on 2013-03-14

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    UDALL of Colorado. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the bipartisan UdallCollins flexibility plan, which is designed to help mitigate the damaging effects of the automatic spending cuts our country now faces, commonly called the sequester. If left unchanged, these indiscriminate sequester cuts will undermine services that hardworking families rely on and harm our economic growth during this fragile recovery.

    So what is the sequester and how did our politics deteriorate so badly that we are left to watch as this self-inflicted wound is leveled on our country? It boils down to two problems that both Democrats and Republicans readily acknowledge deserve our attention: our national deficit and debt. In some ways it is just as the President has described it: a matter of pure math. The Federal Government is spending more than it is taking in and that picture is not projected to change in the long run--in fact, it is projected to get worse.

    And this has been a long time coming. In 2010, I was part of a core group of Senators who urged the White House to establish a bipartisan fiscal commission that would help us address our debt and deficit. The administration heard our call and established a debt and deficit panel to recommend a balanced and comprehensive way to get our fiscal house in order. Their plan, as you know Mr. President, is now commonly referred to as the Simpson-Bowles plan. Former Republican Wyoming Senator Al Simpson and Former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles led the effort and both Democrats and Republicans here in the Senate embraced the framework that pushed for spending cuts, raising revenue and responsibly reforming our entitlements. With bipartisan support for such a balanced plan, it should have been an open-and-shut case, which is why I endorsed the idea and repeatedly encouraged my colleagues to bring it to the floor for a vote.

    The problem is that it doesn't just take some bipartisanship to get anything done around here; it takes a lot of bipartisanship--60 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House of Representatives. Ideologues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers have since dug in their heels, totally unwilling to set aside differences to reach a compromise.

    So that brings us back to the sequester. Because Congress cannot agree on a balanced and bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit, we are left with these automatic and blunt across-the-board cuts.

    There is no doubt that we must reduce the deficit, which is why I have been saying for months that we ought to bring forward the Simpson- Bowles plan and find a way to achieve deficit reduction in a more thoughtful and strategic way. That approach would include additional revenue and shoring up our entitlements. In theory, many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree with this approach. But at the end of the day, there just aren't enough of them with the courage to support a balanced, deficit-reduction plan. We owe it to the American people to be honest. Let's just acknowledge that we have reached an impasse.

    And until there are enough Members willing to make the difficult decisions we are left with these terrible and indiscriminate cuts to our Government. Let's get it straight: the sequester is not a solution. It is neither smart, nor strategic--it wasn't designed to be. I firmly believe that the sequester will leave our Government frayed and our economy weakened.

    The sheer magnitude of the sequester cuts will not only damage our economy, but will also put our national security at a level of risk that could have been avoided had Congress exercised the courage to pass a bipartisan and balanced plan. We can do better, and the Udall-Collins plans suggests that there are more reasonable ways to find these savings than implementing blunt, thoughtless cuts.

    Our plan says, ``Wait a minute, if we really have to live with these terrible cuts, shouldn't we at least be strategic about how and where we make them?'' The proposal that Senator Collins and I have put forward is not about providing flexibility to choose between cutting children's education funding in New York City versus Kansas City. Our plan simply provides the administration and Congress with the flexibility to look at where our Government's highest-value investments are so we can continue to invest in them, while cutting back in areas that do not provide mission-critical value for Americans.

    While there are still difficult decisions to make and tough choices to confront, the best way forward is through a collaborative process between the administration and Congress--as the Udall-Collins plan would provide.

    Last week, the Senate voted down a politically motivated flexibility proposal. Senator Collins and I are not [[Page S1851]] interested in proposing a partisan plan. Instead, we offer a plan that is both reasonable and feasible because it calls for strategic decision-making that allows for the least disruption possible for our constituents as the executive branch implements $85 billion in spending cuts over the next 7 months.

    Further underscoring the need for a comprehensive flexibility plan, several members of Congress introduced this week amendments to a funding bill called a continuing resolution that propose flexibility in implementing sequestration for individual agencies or departments that were immediately hit by the effects of the automatic budget cuts. These amendments are mainly focused on providing flexibility for particular agencies, while the bipartisan Udall-Collins approach proactively provides for strategic decision-making and flexibility across all agencies in our Government.

    Coloradans know we are all in this together. When the pioneers had a wagon train breakdown, they didn't quibble about who was to blame. They fixed the wheel. When bad weather rolled in while crossing the divide, they didn't argue about who put them in harm's way--they came together and supported each other in order to survive.

    In that vein, we ought to continue working on a Simpson-Bowles inspired plan that raises revenue by closing tax loopholes and asks the well-off to do a little more, reforms our entitlements to shore them up over the long term, and finds areas of our budget where we can pare back Government spending. If we can finally agree on a balanced solution like this, we would--in effect--fix the wagon wheel and get us through the storm so that we can move on to the other serious challenges confronting our country, like energy and immigration reform, fighting terrorists and building an economy that is set to lead the global economic race.

    At this point, we are left with very few workable options. The sequester will be damaging no matter what, but let's work together to ensure its impact is not unnecessarily debilitating to our Government, our national security, and our economy. Most importantly, let's not do unnecessary harm to hardworking, middle-class families across this Nation.

    I urge my colleagues to join Senator Collins and me in supporting our amendment to give Congress and the White House the authority to more strategically implement the sequestration cuts. By working together, we can make the best out of a bad situation and agree on a wholesale, balanced and bipartisan plan to address our fiscal imbalances.


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